Regulatory Response

On August 11, 2020 FRA issued a reminder to railroads regarding access of FRA investigators during COVID 19. In light of the unique challenges posed by COVID-19, FRA inspectors will also, to the extent possible without interfering with FRA’s inspection and oversight responsibilities, adhere to specific regulated entities’ policies designed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 It provides specific direction related to hi-rail vehicles and inspections, and other situations necessitating close contact with employees.

FRA’s Office of Technical Oversite has issued a Summary of General Requirements for storage of crude oil in tank cars.

Wondering how to communicate with your employees? The FRA has issued guidance regarding timing and use of personal email addresses during an emergency.

The FRA has also issued guidance in the form of a Safety Advisory encouraging railroads, their employees, and contractors to review and follow all applicable guidance available related to COVID-19. On April 14, 2020 the FRA issued perspective on when to report a COVID-19 case under Part 225. 

On March 23, 2020 the DOT Office of Drug and Alcohol Policy and Compliance (ODAPC) provided guidance, which has been updated as of April 4, 2020, regarding the impact of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) public health emergency on DOT drug and alcohol testing requirements for employers, employees, and service agents, particularly regarding remote assessments and evaluations, and requalifications. This guidance is in effect through June 30, 2020 or the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency.

FRA Emergency Docket FRA-2020-0002

On July 21, 2020, the FRA granted the ASLRRA’s request for extension of specific waivers through September 18, 2020. Weekly reporting of waivers utilized is still required with the same waiver-specific reporting requirements.

ASLRRA members desiring to operate under the terms of the waivers must document the basis on which they concluded that availing themselves of the relief was necessary and must report required information weekly to ASLRRA to provide to FRA. For details, please review the ASLRRA-developed recordkeeping reference.

Documentation must be submitted to covid19waivers@aslrra.org by 12:00 pm Eastern on the Thursday of the report end date.

The waiver of Part 213.233(c), Inspection Frequencies for Main Line Track Including Sidings now requires any railroad implementing the relief on Class 2 track or above to reduce the track speed to the next lower track class. ASLRRA has updated the summary template to reflect the changes granted by FRA. The below waivers are no longer in effect

  • § 213.9(b), Requirements, which require carriers repair non-class specific defects within 30 days from the time of discovery
  • § 215.13, Pre-departure inspections when combining two existing trains
  • § 218.22(c)(5), Utility Employee
  • § 229.21, Locomotive daily Inspection
  • § 232.107(a)(2)(i), Inspection of each yard air source at least 2 times per year
  • § 232.205(a)(2)(i)-(ii), Adding / removing a single or block of cars
  • § 232.205(a)(3), Train off air for more than 4 hours
  • § 232.205(a)(5)(i)-(ii), When received in interchange, removing / adding a single or block of cars
  • § 232.207(a), Extend to 1,200 miles for Class 1A brake inspection
  • § 232.213, Extended haul trains travel up to 2,000 miles without intermediate Class 1A brake test
  • § 232.213(a)(5), Picking up / setting off en route
  • § 232.217(c)(1), Trains off air more than 4 hours
  • § 232.217(d), Periodic calibration of yard air test devices and gauges
  • § 232.215, Transfer air test
  • § 232.305(b)(2) and (c)-(d), Single car air brake tests
  • § 232.309, Testing / calibration requirements for single car air test devices
  • § 232.409(d), Testing calibration of telemetry equipment
  • § 236.376 to 236.387, Inspection / tests of interlocking, route locking, etc.
  • § 236.577, Test, acknowledgement, and cut-in circuits
  • § 236.589, Relays
  • § 234 and 236 Highway - Rail crossing warning device failures
  • § 240.217, Time limitations for making determinations
  • § 240.405(c), 60-day deadline to respond to petitions submitted to LERB
  • § 242.401, Time limitations for making determinations
  • § 242.505(c), 60-day deadline to respond to petitions to OCRB

Hazardous Materials Movement During COVID-19 Health Emergency

PHMSA has issued a Frequently Asked Questions document regarding PHMSA’s Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR) and Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) related guidance published on the PHMSA website.

Several waivers have been issued for the movement of Hazardous Materials by commercial carrier.

  • On April 2, the Transportation Security Administration issued a temporary exemption from requirements in 49 CFR part 1572 regarding expiration of TSA security threat assessments (STAs) for Hazardous Material Endorsement (HME) holders. This exemption allows states to extend an expiration for up to 180 days for those expiring between March 1, 2020 and July 31, 2020.
  • On April 2, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration gave notice of temporary relief from the packaging requirements for products containing ethyl alcohol, used in hand sanitizer, and will not take enforcement action against highway carriers for three months, or when the public health emergency is over, whichever is sooner. On April 10, 2020, PHMSA updated its guidance, and on June 24, 2020 PHMSA extended the expiration date through October 31, 2020.
  • On March 23, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration gave notice that it would not take enforcement action against any carrier or offeror who is experiencing difficult in obtaining or providing recurrent training. The agency updated its guidance to extend through October 31, 2020.
  • On July 9, 2020, PHMSA extended additional enforcement action waivers through October 31, 2020 for packaging retesting, for relief of tests and inspections of cargo tanks and portable tanks in Alaska, and for the  transportation of certain hand sanitizing and disinfecting materials

Hours of Service Reminder During COVID-19

The Hours of Service statutory requirements, which limit the service hours of specified railroad employees, are contained in Chapter 211, Title 49 of the U.S. Code. Included in the statute is a non-application provision, at 49 U.S. Code § 21102, commonly referred to as the “emergency provision,” and FRA policy concerning the emergency provision is found at Title 49 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 228, Appendix A. The policy statement stresses that even in an emergency situation the carrier must make reasonable efforts to relieve the employee. Pursuant to FRA Hours of Service Record keeping regulations at 49 C.F.R. 228.19, each instance of excess service must be reported to FRA within 30 days after the calendar month in which the instance occurred. FRA requires use of its FRA Form 6180.3–Hours of Service Report.


The Small Business Administration

The SBA is open for business and has the ability to quickly process low-interest loans for small businesses that may need a short-term bridge. Click here to learn more from the SBA directly. Click here for a summary of SBA activities most relevant to short line railroads, produced by our friends at CC&H and the Seneca Group. 

The Railroad Retirement Board

On April 7, 2020, an interim final rule amended the definition of “available for work,” due to COVID-19.  §327.5 Meaning of ‘‘available for work” is revised as: (d) Deemed available for work. During the period extending from March 1, 2020 until December 31, 2020, a claimant will be deemed to be available for work during any period for which he or she is subject to a state or local order related to the public health emergency declared effective March 1, 2020 preventing him or her from reporting to work. The rule is effective as of April 3, 2020. Please direct any RRB-specific concerns to Sarah Yurasko.

The Surface Transportation Board

Starting Tuesday, March 17, 2020, all filings and other submissions should be made electronically. All Board decisions will continue to be available on the Board’s website during this time; however, the Board’s mail room will not be accepting paper filings or providing paper copies of decisions or other materials until further notice. 

On April 22, the Board issued a letter urging state and local authorities, even as they begin to phase-out certain restrictions, to continue to recognize the importance of railroad operations and to support the ability of railroads and their supply chain partners to contribute to the national welfare. As we move from containment into recovery, the Board encourages anyone with questions regarding its authority to contact its Rail Customer and Public Assistance Program, available at (866) 254-1792 (toll-free) or 202-245-0238, or by email at rcpa@stb.gov.

Railroad Operations

All reports we have heard so far indicate that the freight railroad network is operating normally. However, there are valid concerns among short lines about the ability to continue operations under a variety of scenarios: for instance, a large group of employees take sick or FMLA leave at the same time, a large group of employees are forced into self-quarantine after a confirmed case in the immediate community, etc. 




Have something to add? We welcome your suggestions! Please share your COVID-19 resources with ASLRRA by emailing akrouse@aslrra.org.